After weeks of stressing and studying, you finally take the SAT or ACT test, and wait patiently (or not so patiently) for the results. Even when they finally come in, it can be difficult to know quite how to react. Did you do “well”? Is the score “good”? How exactly are you to know? First, let’s break down the numbers you’re looking at:
How Are the SAT and ACT Scored?
Category Highest possible score
Category How the score is determined
SAT The combined total of 800 possible points in math and 800 possible points in reading
ACT The average of four scores that range from 1-36 in math, science, reading, and English
A Broad Overview
Gaye Weintraub, a private SAT/ACT tutor, acknowledges there’s a somewhat agreed upon scale in the industry. “A ‘good’ score on the SAT would be 1350 to 1600. Generally, 1300-1400 is considered good, and anywhere in the 1500s would be considered exceptional. For the ACT,” she adds, “a top score would be 34 to 36.”
Not So Fast
But if you don’t make it into that range, that doesn’t mean your score isn’t marketable to colleges. In fact, depending on which school you hope to attend, even a far lower score may be more than you need.
“What a student’s SAT or ACT score really means is all about the schools they want to go to,” says Diana Patton, the Director of Tutoring and Sales at PrepScholar. “A great score for one student could be too low for another; it’s all down to each student’s personal goals.”
How Do You Know If You Score Is “Good” Enough?
If you don’t score anywhere near a 1600 or a 36, you may still be well within the range of what your school of choice typically looks for.
Schools routinely report the score range of the students they accept, and they’re published in various places, including Niche.
Check the profile page of any college to view its SAT and ACT score range.
Patton says if your score is on the high end of that range, or above it, your chances of admission are relatively strong. However, she suggests you don’t rest on your laurels. “You should shift your attention to raising your GPA, engaging in challenging extracurriculars, and writing a standout personal statement,” she advises.
If you’re below your school’s typical range, Patton says you should consider some serious test prep and take the test again.
“Your scores and your GPA are the two numbers most admissions officers use to decide if they’ll even look at the rest of your application,” she says. “If your GPA is far higher than average for your target schools, or if you’re aiming for liberal arts colleges where every application is read fully, you might skate by with a slightly lower score. But in any other case, raising your test score to be competitive at your target schools is absolutely essential.”
See our admissions calculator to get a better sense of how your test score, GPA, and major will influence your school’s decision.
What Else Can You Do?
If you take the SAT or ACT test again, it’s important to remember that even a modest improvement may significantly enhance the score you send to colleges. That’s because in many cases you can superscore the SAT or ACT, putting together the best of your scores from various sections of the test, and submitting the highest combined score.
Weintraub has another trick up her sleeve, especially if you’re an SAT-taker. “If a student does not do well on the SAT,” she says, “I highly encourage him or her to try the ACT instead. Oftentimes my students score much better on one exam than the other, and students who don’t do very well on the SAT perform better on the ACT. While generally, only a limited number of smaller colleges accepted the ACT in the past, most colleges and universities now take ACT scores for enrollment.”
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